You are on page 1of 4

FloridafarmersworryaboutCubaorganicgrowers

JeanetteLeehr,RoundEarthMedia

4:11p.m.EDTMarch18,2016

Corrections&Clarifications:AnearlierversionofthisstorydidnotmakeclearthatopeningaDepartmentof
AgricultureofficeinCubaisaproposalthathasnotbeenapproved.
ST.PETERSBURG,Fla.WhenthirdgenerationfarmerRickRothenvisionsthepossibleendofthelong
U.S.tradeembargoonCuba,justacrosstheFloridastraits,heseespotentialcompetition.Andheworries
aboutdiseases,pestsandinvasivespecies.
(Photo:BethReynolds,RoundEarth
Media)

WhilemanyU.S.agriculturalproducersandbusinessesareeagertostartexportingtoCuba,Floridafarmers
saytheObamaadministrationsplantoallowCubanimportsthreatenstheir$8

STORYFROMTOURISMAUSTRALIA

Need a zen moment? Virtually visit Australias coast

(http://www.usatoday.com/pages/interactives/sponsorstory/tourismaustraliavistas/)
billionayearbusiness.Floridaslargerorganicgrowers,alreadystrugglingtoremainprofitable,maybeparticularlyhardhitbecauseCubahas
developedastrongorganicfarmingsector.
Initially,CubamostlikelywouldexportmanyofthesameproductsgrownbyFloridaorganicfarms,andthecommunistnationwouldenjoythe
advantageoflowerwages,statesubsidies,cheaptransportationandthenoveltyappealofCubanproducts.
AbouttwothirdsofourmembersareextremelyagainsttheCubadeal,saidJanellHendren,nationalaffairscoordinatoroftheFloridaFarmBureau
Federation,thestateslargestagriculturalorganization,whichrepresents144,000conventionalandorganicfarmers.
Roth,whogrowsvegetablesandsugarcaneon5,000acresinPalmBeachCounty,saidcompetitionfromCuba,neveraconcernbefore,isnowa
possibility.
FloridaisthelogicalplaceforCubanproducetocomefirst,hesaid,addingthatitwouldbeunfairtoexpectFloridafarmerstocompetewithstate
subsidizedCubanproducers.WhenyoubuyCubanproducts,areyouhelpingtheCubanfarmerortheCubangovernment?
Inadditiontofruitandvegetables,theU.S.mightfinditselfimportingdiseasesandpeststhatcouldwipeoutacroporentireindustry,hesaid.
SinceDecember2014,whentheUnitedStatesbeganrestoringPresidentObamaannouncedhisintentiontolifttheembargo,diplomatictieswith
Cuba,threebillshavebeenintroducedinCongresswiththeaimofnormalizingtrade,withCuba,includingendingtheprohibitionofproductsofCuban
originfromenteringtheU.S.
InpolarizedWashington,someMidwestRepublicansareonObamasside,seeingapotentialbonanzaforcompaniesthatsellseed,fertilizersand
machinery.PaulJohnson,cochairoftheU.S.AgricultureCoalitionforCuba,theleadingfarmindustrygrouplobbyingforrelaxationofthetrade
embargo,saidpressurefromhisgroup,theU.S.ChamberofCommerceandObamawillbuildmomentumforthechange.
ButHendrensaidflatly,Itsnotgonnahappenthisyear.Theoutcomewilldependonwhowinsthisyearspresidentialandcongressionalelections,
andliftingtheembargowilllikelybeaveryhottopicin2017,shesaid.
Cubaoncefocusedoncapitalintensive,industrializedagricultureonlargestaterunfarms,butwasforcedtochangeaftereconomicsupportfromthe
SovietUnionevaporated.
Beginningin1990,Cubanfoodproductionfellprecipitously.Thecountryshiftedtoalowinputagriculturalcooperativemodel.Evenso,itsuffered
seriousfoodshortagesin1994,whichpromptedfurtherchanges.Itembracedamodelthatincludedthedevelopmentofverysmallscaleurbanfarms,
whichturnedouttobesurprisinglysuccessful.
Cubahasthelargestexperimentinorganicagricultureanywhereintheworld,saidBillMessina,anleadingauthorityonCubanagricultureatthe
UniversityofFlorida.Cubareportslargeproductionvolumesofpeppers,tomatoes,cucumbersallthekindsofproductsweproducehere.

Foodproductionslowlyrecovered,andCubanowexportsvegetablesandhoneytoCanada,citrusproductstotheEuropeanUnionandsugarto
China.ButCubastillimports70%to80%ofitsfood.Muchofwhatitproducesgoestodomesticconsumption,butthatcouldchangeiftradewiththe
U.S.resumes.
Beforethathappens,CubaandtheU.S.wouldneedtohammerouttradeprotocolsandharmonizecertification.Thatprocesswouldgetaboostifthe
USDAsrequestforanofficeandstaffinCubaisapproved.
JohnsonstradegroupconductedaLearningJourneyinCubalastMarch,thefirstmajorU.S.businessvisitdelegationafterObamas
announcement.ItplansasecondtripinlateMaytobringU.S.farmersandCubanstogethertopressaheadontopicsthatincludeproduction,
investment,tradeandsustainability.
Transportroutesareready.Shipsloadedwithfood,medicalproductsandotherauthorizedexportstravelweeklyfromportsinFloridatoCuba.But
thesetheseshipsreturnwithemptycontainers.Itwouldbegoodtohaveabackhaulitcouldhelplowershippingcosts,too,Johnsonsaid.
WehavethecapacitytodoanythingandeverythingwithCuba,saidCarlosBuqueras,directorofthePortofManateeonFloridasGulfCoast.
Iftheembargoislifted,Cubawillhavetodecidewhethertocontinuetopromoteorganicagricultureoroptonceagainforanindustrializedagriculture
model.LargeU.S.agriculturalinterestsarepromotingindustrializationandaremakingitattractivewithoffersoffinancingandinvestment.
Buttheresalotofmoneyinorganics,accordingtoJohnson,whoisalsoCEOofimportexportbusinessChicagoFoodsFoodInternational.
ImprettysureIcanputastickeronan[organicCuban]avocadoandsellitforawholelotatWholeFoods,hesaid.
Similarly,SunMaidGrowersofCalifornia,alargefruitgrowerscooperative,recentlyrevealedthatitislookingintoimportingorganicmangoesfrom
Cuba.
EvaWorden,aCubanAmericanorganicgrowerinPuntaGorda,Fla.,supportsaresumptionoftradebetweentheU.S.andCubabutwantstobe
surethefruitandvegetableneedsoftheCubanpeoplearemetbeforeencouragingexports.
Wordenandherhusband,Chris,bothexpertsinhorticulturewithdoctoraldegrees,foundedWordenFarmsin2003.Theyserve600familieswith
regulardeliveriesoffruitsandvegetablesandsellatbothweeklyfarmerssmarketsinSt.PetersburgandSarasota.Giventheopportunity,the
WordenssaytheywouldlookatthepossibilityofexpandingtheirproductiontoCuba.
Theresacachetinbeingabletobuysomethingthatwasonceforbidden,saidJackWoods,aFloridaadvertisingexpertwithextensiveexperiencein
foodmarketing.
ConsumerswillbeabletogetaglimpseofmoderndayCubabyeatingsomethingassimpleasanorganicbanana,Woodssaid.Youdonthaveto
traveltheretoeatit,itdoesntcostmuch,andittastesjustlikeitdoesatafarmerssmarketinHavana.TheseCubanorganicstransportustoatime
andplacewearecuriousabout.
Cubaisexperimentingwithsomelessfamiliarproduce,suchasmoringa,saidToddLogan,aFloridaorganiclandscaperwhotraveledtoCuba.onan
educationaltrip.Moringa,toutedasthenextsuperfood,growsonadroughttoleranttreethatthrivesinsandysoilsinthetropicsandisveryhighin
protein,calciumandVitaminC.
Thentheresguanabana,guayabana,alsoknownassoursop.soursop.WordenhopesitbecomesavailableintheU.S.Apartfrombeingadelicious
fleshy,greenfruit,itisknownasanantiinflammatoryandcancerfightingmedicinalfood.Shewouldalsowelcomemameysapote,afruitlikeasmall
footballwithscratchyskin,andsalmoncoloredfleshthatcanbeusedtomakemilkshakesandicecream.
ChefKennyTuforunsSeaSalt,anupscale300seatseafoodrestaurantinSt.Petersburg,afewblocksfromaproposedsiteforthefirstCuban
consulateintheUnitedStatessince1959.TufosaidheimaginesusingexoticCubanproduceanddevelopingadishinlinewithcustomercuriosity
aboutCubancuisine.
Icanseepeoplegettingonthetrain,hesaid.
WordenbeamsasshegreetscustomersinherbustlingmarketstallatSt.PetersburgsSaturdaymorningmarket.Sheissurroundedbyherharvestof
colorfulorganicproduce:Brusselssprouts,headlettuce,kale,Cubanelleandpoblanopeppers,spinach,Chioggiabeets,Frenchbreakfastradishes
andcilantro.

Twocustomersstopby,theRomerobrothers,CubanAmericanslivinginTampa,whorecentlyrestoredtheirCubancitizenshipandboughtproperty
there.
TogethertheytalkabouttheirdreamsforCubaandwonderifonedayWordenwillseeCubanproduceinthemarket,rightalongsideherown.
ThisstorywasproducedinassociationwithRoundEarthMedia(http://www.roundearthmedia.org/),anonprofitorganizationthatmentorsyoung
internationaljournalists.

WillieBonner,astafferatLittlePondFarminBushnell,Fla.,stocksorganicvegetablesattheSaturdayMorningMarketindowntownSt.Petersburg,Fla.(Photo:Beth
Reynolds,RoundEarthMedia)

WordenFarmutilizesanolderFarmalltractortoweedthroughscallionrowssincethefarmdoesnotusepesticides.WordenFarmisan85acrecertifiedorganicfamily
farminsouthwestFlorida.(Photo:BethReynolds,RoundEarthMedia)

WordenFarminPuntaGorda,Fla.,bringsawiderangeoforganicpepperstotheSaturdayMorningMarketindowntownSt.Petersburg,Fla.(Photo:BethReynolds,Round
EarthMedia)

Cubahasthelargestexperimentinorganicagricultureanywhereintheworld,saidBillMessina,aleadingauthorityonCubanagricultureatthe
UniversityofFlorida.Cubareportslargeproductionvolumesofpeppers,tomatoes,cucumbersallthekindsofproductsweproducehere.
Foodproductionslowlyrecovered,andCubanowexportsvegetablesandhoneytoCanada,citrusproductstotheEuropeanUnionandsugarto
China.ButCubastillimports70%80%ofitsfood.Muchofwhatitproducesgoestodomesticconsumption,butthatcouldchangeiftradewiththe
U.S.resumes.
Beforethathappens,CubaandtheU.S.wouldneedtohammerouttradeprotocolsandharmonizecertification.Thatprocesswouldgetaboostifthe
USDAsrequestforanofficeandstaffinCubaisapproved.
Johnsonstradegroupconducteda"LearningJourney"inCubalastMarch,thefirstmajorU.S.businessdelegationafterObamasannouncement.It
plansasecondtripinlateMaytobringU.S.farmersandCubanstogethertopressaheadontopicsthatincludeproduction,investment,tradeand
sustainability.
Transportroutesareready.Shipsloadedwithfood,medicalproductsandotherauthorizedexportstravelweeklyfromportsinFloridatoCuba.But
thesetheseshipsreturnwithemptycontainers.Itwouldbegoodtohaveabackhaulitcouldhelplowershippingcosts,too,Johnsonsaid.
WehavethecapacitytodoanythingandeverythingwithCuba,saidCarlosBuqueras,directorofthePortofManateeonFloridasGulfCoast.